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Interparliamentary cooperation has been, since 1989, one of the main pillars of the international activities of the National Assembly.
I. – GROWING DEMAND
For the National Assembly, inter-parliamentary cooperation consists in providing technical assistance in parliamentary operation for those Parliaments which request aid. It thus contributes to the establishment or the strengthening of the rule of law.
It is reserved solely for the benefit of parliamentarians and parliamentary administrations.
The emergence of new democracies in various regions of the world along with the permanent and widespread needs of the Parliaments of the southern hemisphere, has led the assemblies of these countries to turn towards Parliaments possessing longer democratic experience and more substantial operating means.
In this framework the requests made to the French National Assembly have been more and more frequent. Thus the Assembly now hosts, every year, almost forty foreign delegations in the field of technical cooperation between Parliaments. Similarly over fifteen programmes led by M.P.s or civil servants of the National Assembly are organized abroad.
The strategy consists in finding long-term cooperation programmes (multiannual programmes financed either by international sponsors or by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its diplomatic missions or annual regional seminars) rather than individual short-term operations.
Generally speaking, the aid provided by the National Assembly is usually of a technical rather than of a political nature (this implies that the support usually concerns the organization of Parliament, its bodies and their work and less frequently help in the actual legislative work per se, i.e. in the drawing-up of a given bill). Similarly this assistance is essentially intellectual as the possibility of providing material support is very strictly limited by the status of the National Assembly.
II. – A VARIETY OF ACTIVITIES
1. – Multilateral programmes
The National Assembly has been involved in multilateral inter-parliamentary cooperation since 1996 (when the European Commission entrusted it with the leadership of a TACIS project for assistance to the Russian Douma) and as such possesses a proven track record which is recognized by international actors in cooperation and development aid.
Programmes of this type are initiated either by mutual agreements signed with international organizations (United Nations, World Bank) or by answering tenders.
The National Assembly has thus been entrusted with the leadership of several programmes with various Parliaments, by the United Nations Development Programme (U.N.D.P.):
- Along with the French Senate and under the authority of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it participated in the setting-up of the Parliament of Afghanistan which has more specifically entailed the training, both in Paris and in Kabul, of the first parliamentary civil servants of the new regime;
- It also plays an important role in a variety of cooperation programmes launched with several Parliaments such as that of the Union of the Comoros, Lebanon, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Algeria, etc.
- The National Assembly is also responsible for several long-term programmes originating with the European Union.
- It has in recent years led programmes involving the Russian Duma, the Polish Diet and the Parliament of Madagascar; it has also piloted a specific twinning programme with the Romanian Chamber of Deputies and has helped, by means of two successive programmes of the European Union, Kosovo set up its national Parliament (from 2005 to 2008).
- The National Assembly also took part, from 2006 to 2008, along with the Ministry of Justice, the National School of Magistrates and the Franco-Vietnamese House of Law, in an institutional support programme in Vietnam. This programme provided, in particular, technical assistance in the modernization of the procedures in use in the Vietnamese National Assembly.
- Since 2008, it has piloted, in collaboration with the French Senate and the Hungarian National Assembly, a twinning programme with the Parliament of Moldova.
- This construction of consortiums bringing together several parliaments of the member states of the Union in the management of projects is one of the particularities of European programmes. In the past, the National Assembly has also collaborated with the Cortès, the Bundestag, the Belgian Chamber of Representatives and the National Assembly of Slovenia.
2. – Bilateral programmes
a) Programmes Carried Out in France
The National Assembly organizes working visits for foreign parliamentarians and training periods for parliamentary civil servants. These working visits or training periods maybe of a general nature, or may deal with precise topics concerning both the very heart of parliamentary activity (organization of the plenary sitting, committee work, the legislative procedure, the monitoring of Government action, the writing-up of the parliamentary minutes) as well as other important aspects of the work of an assembly (financial management, human resources, the library and documentation, archives, protocol, security, information technology and communication). The National Assembly has also set up training programmes on the welcoming procedures to be adopted for new M.P.s at the beginning of a new Parliament.
In addition, in many cases, contacts and meetings with the French Senate, the Constitutional Council, the Conseil d’État, the General Secretariat of the Government and with ministers whose activities might particularly interest them, are arranged for the representatives of foreign Parliaments.
Coupled with all this, every year since 1995, the National Assembly in collaboration with the French Senate has organized in the framework of the “Special International Cycles for Public Administration” which are run by the French National School of Administration, a training programme on the organization of parliamentary work. This programme is open to around thirty French-speaking M.P.s and civil servants from about fifteen countries and the living and travel expenses are paid for by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This programme has the very positive advantage of comparing various national experiences.
Since 2010, a similar cycle in English will also be organized.
Finally, every year the National Assembly organizes a training session specifically devoted to the staff of the United Nations who are responsible for running or participating in parliamentary support programmes.
b) Programmes Carried Out Abroad
Within the framework of cooperation, the National Assembly carries out a variety of different missions:
- Assessment missions concerning the needs of a Parliament seeking support from the National Assembly. These missions usually enable the drawing-up of medium term cooperation programme (Haiti, Central African Republic, Bolivia, Madagascar, Lebanon, Mali);
- Technical assistance missions. These missions consist of sending one or several civil servants to a foreign Parliament with the aim of providing help or advice in the solving of pre-identified problems;
- Information/training missions which are carried out by French parliamentarians or civil servants for the benefit of foreign parliamentarians or civil servants. These missions may be in the form of bilateral seminars for the M.P.s or civil servants of a particular Parliament. The National Assembly also organizes regional seminars for the civil servants of several Parliaments (every year since 1996, for instance, the National Assembly along with the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has organized a seminar for the civil servants of the Parliaments of Sub-Saharan Africa and since 1995 a seminar for their colleagues of North African Parliaments and Lebanon).
However, the National Assembly, for legal reasons associated with its status, cannot finance new equipment for its partners whatever the importance or the urgency of their needs may be.
III. – A SPECIALIZED ADMINISTRATIVE STRUCTURE
Within the International Affairs and Defence Department of the National Assembly, a unit is specifically tasked with inter-parliamentary cooperation.
This unit, which acts under the authority of the President of the National Assembly and of the delegation of the Bureau of the Assembly in charge of international activities, attempts to provide a quick and custom-made reply to the needs expressed by the Parliaments which seek its assistance. To reach this objective the Inter-parliamentary Cooperation Unit calls upon the know-how of all the civil servants of the National Assembly.